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Columbia University's student radio is on air nonstop covering campus protests


Protests against Israel's war with Hamas continue today on multiple college campuses across the country, including at Columbia University in New York. Dozens of tents once again cover a lawn in the middle of campus less than a week after police dismantled a previous encampment and arrested more than 150 students. In the middle of it all, covering every twist and turn is WKCR. That's a student radio station that's broadcast from Columbia's campus for more than 60 years. And in the host chair for much of the past week's protest has been the station's program director, Georgia Dillane. And she joins us now. Hi, Georgia.

GEORGIA DILLANE: Hi. Thanks so much for having me.

SUMMERS: Thanks for being here. You and your colleagues there are in a bit of a unique position because currently, campus is closed to anyone who doesn't have a Columbia ID, and that means that national news outlets have had a challenging time covering these protests up close. Can you just tell us what your access has been like?

DILLANE: Yeah, exactly. I mean, you said it yourself. As Columbia students, we're able to slip seamlessly inside and outside of campus, which is something most news media outlets aren't able to do. And I think that puts us in a great position to be able to bring the sort of urgency of the situation to listeners as quickly as possible. We have a lot of live coverage through being on call with people out in the field. And because we're able to move so quickly in and out of campus, we can cover what's going on both in and around campus very quickly.

SUMMERS: Given that, are there things that you think the national media is completely missing or just isn't getting right about what's happening at Columbia?

DILLANE: I think in terms of what the news media are missing is that as students, we see the small minutia that is often overlooked besides the larger gate closures or messaging from administration. We know that what is standing out most to us is the sort of small details that point to this current climate on campus as being so atypical.

SUMMERS: Like what? Give us an example of one of those small details.

DILLANE: Yeah, I think, I mean, in terms of swipe access, as students, we swipe into buildings every day. And so a couple of days ago, we did a sort of run with our field reporters just trying to get a sense for exactly where swipe access was restricted on campus. So we sent them around, sort of trying to tap into every building and see what would come up there. And to that extent, too, we interact with public safety most days on campus anyway, but just to see the influx of their presence around campus has been something that we're following very closely here.

SUMMERS: There are already comparisons being made to the campus protests against the Vietnam War in the late 1960s. And we should just point out in 1968, Columbia saw violent clashes between police and students, and WKCR covered those protests, too. Is that comparison one that we hear a lot off campus something that students on campus are also talking about?

DILLANE: Totally. Even before April 17, here at KCR, we were thinking about 1968 in a very big way. When I first joined WKCR, one of the most intriguing things about it as a student group was that it had been involved in 1968 in a really meaningful way. And it really changed the direction of our programming as a place for news to be focused on the student voices on campus and the issues that affect us in this community.

SUMMERS: You are a journalist, but you're also a student, and I know that classes are about a week away from finishing for the year. And that means finals are just around the corner. I'm thinking back to my college radio days. It seems like it would be really hard to be thinking about school right now.

DILLANE: Totally, and it has been. Admittedly, a lot of us have put academics a bit on the back burner for the past week. But every single person had to be in agreement about the fact that this was something we wanted to prioritize not only at the station but in our lives. And it was a pretty easy conversation because everyone recognized the immediacy and urgency of what was happening on Columbia's campus.

SUMMERS: That's Georgia Dillane, a college junior, program director and lead host for WKCR, the student radio station at Columbia University. Georgia, thank you for your reporting.

DILLANE: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Noah Caldwell
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
Justine Kenin
Justine Kenin is an editor on All Things Considered. She joined NPR in 1999 as an intern. Nothing makes her happier than getting a book in the right reader's hands – most especially her own.
Juana Summers
Juana Summers is a co-host of NPR's All Things Considered, alongside Ailsa Chang, Ari Shapiro and Mary Louise Kelly. She joined All Things Considered in June 2022.